science facts and fallacies

Podcast: This GMO probiotic helps prevent hangovers—can it ease consumer fear of biotechnology?

, | September 10, 2019
Cameron English: GLP Senior Agricultural Genetics Editor    More details
Kevin Folta: University of Florida plant geneticist    More details
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There’s nothing quite like a hangover. After a few too many drinks and a night of restless sleep, you wake up with an upset stomach, pounding headache, sore muscles and the desire to do nothing but sit on your couch and sip Gatorade. Most of us are very familiar with the next-day effects of consuming alcohol, but genetic engineering may have finally made them more tolerable.

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Zack Abbott

California-based biotech startup ZBiotics has developed a probiotic it claims can help your body more efficiently metabolize alcohol, possibly preventing hangovers—or at least making them a little less miserable. The shot-size drink contains genetically engineered bacteria that break down acetaldehyde, the chemical byproduct of alcohol metabolism responsible for the unpleasant side effects. ZBiotics says its product is FDA-compliant and has submitted a safety study to the Journal of Toxicology, which is available online for free.

The probiotic is an interesting development in its own right, but company founder and microbiologist Zack Abbott says ZBiotics wants to do more than prevent hangovers. Genetic engineering gets a bad rap, Abbott argues, and his startup wants to offer products that ease the public’s deep-seated but inconsistent fear of biotechnology by solving practical problems.

Although the public remains highly skeptical of GMO and gene-edited crops and animals, research shows that consumer concern about genetic engineering in medicine is almost nonexistent. The benefits of biotech cancer treatments, insulin and vaccines are obvious to people who need them and outweigh whatever concerns people may have about the technology that made those treatments possible. Therein lies an opportunity to upend the ferocious battle over GMOs that’s raged for almost 30 years, Abbott says:

Genetic engineering has given us incredible things …. But this technology remains difficult to understand outside of big corporations and university labs. The result? People have come to question the good this technology can do for the world. ‍We’re out to change that. Genetic engineering is our means to create products that improve your life.

Related article:  Precautionary principle may threaten progress of agriculture, medicine in Africa, expert says

On this episode of Biotech Facts and Fallacies, Abbott joins GLP editor Cameron English to discuss the science behind his company’s first product and his goal to elevate the conversation about genetic engineering.

Zack Abbott is the founder and CEO of ZBiotics. He holds a PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of Michigan. Follow ZBiotics on Twitter @ZBioticsCompany

Cameron J. English is the GLP’s senior agricultural genetics and special projects editor. He co-hosts the Biotech Facts and Fallacies podcast. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

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